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Last Man Standing: The Memoirs, Letters & Photographs of a Teenage Officer Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Review

This fantastic little WWI book is a must for any budding historians. Collins was underage when he joined the Seaforth Highlanders and was a 19-year-old officer when he led at the battle of the Somme. This book contains extracts from his diaries and a remarkable personal collection of photographs which lend this account a poignancy and immediacy which is often breathtaking. - Scottish Field This is a harrowing tale of battle, loss and the horrors of war. - Scotland Magazine

About the Author

The Author came across Norman Collins while researching his best selling TV tie-in book Veterans. He was immediately struck by this truly remarkable character, who was then over 100 years old. Sadly Norman has now died but Richard Van Emden had not been deterred from writing what is by any standard a most exhilarating memoir of an exceptional veteran.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 8237 KB
  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword; Reprint edition (8 Nov. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A3W2094
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #135,932 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Do not hesitate: if you have any interest in the Great War or a man's experiences at war, you will find no better work than "Last man standing". It is a genuine "cannot-put-down". Editor Richard van Emden has produced a really memorable account of Norman Collins' war, based on Norman's own letters, photographs and descriptive memoir. Norman reached the grand old age of one hundred years and passed away in 1998, but in his later years Richard got to know him well. The story, however, is of a boy who was just seventeen in 1914.

Norman Collins was perhaps typical in that he was keen to get to war, to the extent that he did not tell his parents and went as far from his home as possible to enlist, joining the Seaforth Highlanders as a ranker in mid 1915. He had already seen some of war's brutality, in the form of the German naval bombardment of his home town of Hartlepool. From the time he joined, Norman was very evidently proud to be a "kiltie". He was a good soldier, rapidly promoted through the ranks and commissioned after officer training at Lichfield. His descriptions of life there and previously at Seaforths barracks and camps at Fort George and Ripon paint a detailed and absorbing picture of the soldier's life in training.

Once in France he sees a great deal of action, serving with the 4th and 6th Battalions and going over the top at Beaumont Hamel (November 1916) and Arras (April 1917). His experiences inevitably include the deaths of close friends, comrades and even his young servant. Norman is also detailed to lead a burial party after the attack at Beaumont-Hamel, in which his men find around 1000 bodies including many skeletal remains from 1 July 1916.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If, like me, you have previously read general histories of the 1st World War, this personal record shows things from a different perspective.

Norman Collins was unusual in that all his letters home were kept, thus giving a remarkably complete record of his army life and thoughts from the date of his joining the army as a young volunteer until shortly after the end of hostilities.

He had joined his school cadet force which gave him a sound introduction to army life. His letters during his army training show how the army set about things: everything is covered - from food, sleeping accommodation, leave, exercises and so on. He, and his volunteer colleagues, looked forward to the prospect of war and to joining the regiments they were keen on, seeing things more or less as an adventure - not knowing of course what the reality would turn out to be. 'The day war broke out I was thrilled' he wrote and rushed down to the recruiting station. Patriotism, he says, was assumed.

Fairly quickly, his confidence, abilities and the encouragement of his CO lead him to apply for a Commission, which he duly attained.

In France he proved to be a very competent officer judging by the tasks he was allotted. And he gave much thought to the needs of the men in his charge. Early on he says 'On the whole I prefer this to being at home as I am doing something at last and although it is a very hard life it is not so monotonous'. He was just 19.

Physical conditions were often appalling. Apart from the fighting there was the mud, sometimes almost waste deep. One of his tasks was to collect the dead. Rats scurried from the chest cavities of some of the bodies.

Later, his enthusiasm was less marked, though he always continued to be an effective officer.
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Format: Kindle Edition
It felt like a privilege to read this. I possibly have a better understanding of WW1 now than I've ever had. I think it was the immediacy of it, composed as it is largely of letters written home, either from his training periods, or else from the Front itself. The day-to-day-ness of the book made it so much easier to comprehend than serious, weighty historical tomes ever could - in my opinion, anyway. And I found myself liking this man enormously. The book also cleared up something for me. In my ignorance I'd always felt that, either with the volunteers during the first two years of this war, or else the conscripts from 1916 onwards, officers and men alike were more or less given a uniform and a rifle, shipped over the France, then told to just get on with it. Nothing, it seems, was further from the truth, because they were trained meticulously for many months before they were deemed fit to go and fight.

Norman didn't consider himself to be a hero. I beg to differ.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I not only have one of the original hard copies, I was gifted this lifetime with the great pleasure of knowing Norman Collins for many years. He was/is one of the most incredible human beings it has been my pleasure to know this lifetime. Tiny in physical stature, he was a giant in personality, ethics, intelligence and overall humanity. His memory for detail, beginning from the time he was 3 years old and viewed the Coronation of the Queen, was utterly prolific. (Among other things, he had a rose garden for many years with over 5000 varieties, and he knew every one of them by name and with any unusual details!) Whenever I was over the Pond, I cherished the time spent with him as he regaled me with fascinating stories of his life and times, including WWII during which he served with such distinction, that Hitler took note and placed him on a list of 100 souls to be executed when Germany invaded and conquered England.

The book itself chronicles the time of his youth, his desire to get into the war after witnessing Germany's first naval shelling of the Scottish coast and, later, the absolute horrors of that war. Buried alive by a shell burst at The Somme, he was only saved because one of his fellow officers happened to be looking at him when it occurred and was able to muster a few others to dig Norman out. He later served in India. He told me that after his adventures in service, he decided to live every day as if it were his last. He did so, much to the benefit of many. It was an honour to know this great man and I'm immensely pleased to know his publishers have been wise enough to republish this work. England should never forget him and his benefit to the nation during two tumultuous wars as well as his business contributions to a great industry, Perkins Engines in which he had a powerful impact.
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